Moving the camera during a scene is one thing, moving it throughout the day to prepare for shots is another.
There are various scenarios in which you’ll find yourself transporting the camera. Sometimes it will be to nudge it only a few feet forward. Or you may have to carry it across the set. Other times you’ll end up lugging it across town.
Moving the Camera Between Setups
The most common instance of moving the camera is between shots and setups.
When the call is made to move onto the next scene, you have to be quick on the ball to get the camera where the director of photography (DP) wants it so they can begin framing, lighting, and blocking.
Having the camera on a tripod is nice because it means you don’t have to keep lifting it up and down off the operator’s shoulder. Between setups, however, it can be a bit of a nuisance to transport the camera as well as the tripod.
In most instances, you can hoof the camera a few feet forward, left, right, wherever the DP asks. But if you’re moving the camera a decent distance try one of these two approaches:
Approach #1: Carry the entire camera and tripod by yourself
Moving the camera by yourself is handy for those times when your 2nd AC is busy or when you are the only AC on set. Doing it effectively is a simple four-step process:
- Lower the tripod, level the camera, and pan it so the lens is pointing towards one of the legs.
- Extend that same leg slightly outwards about 6 – 8 inches
- Tilt the camera down towards the leg so it is level again
- Place your shoulder underneath the camera and lift
When you reach the spot where the camera is to be placed, lean forward a little bit until the extended leg touches the ground, then ease the rest of the weight to the ground.
Voila, re-level the camera and you’re good to go.
I love this method because if you don’t extend that front leg, you have to squat down with the entire weight of the camera/mag/head/sticks.
Approach #2: You carry the camera while someone else moves the sticks
This method is preferred because it is easier and faster, but you need an extra pair of hands to execute it.
Once you have wrangled up your busy 2nd AC or a hapless PA, lift the camera off the head and let them grab the tripod. Instruct them where to place the tripod and to raise it up if needed. Once the tripod is set, place the camera back onto the head.
Simple, easy, fast.
A good camera team will make this process seamless without even talking about it.
When shooting handheld, the camera is in its most mobile state. To move it around set, simply carry it, preferably with two hands or on top of your shoulder.
Be sure the area you are taking the camera to is free of crew members working so that you will have a place to rest the camera. The last thing you want is to carry it all the way over there only to find out the grip and electric crew still need space to rig their lights and stands.
When moving the camera onto the dolly, wait until your are told that “dolly is ready for camera” by the dolly grip. And don’t take anybody else’s word on that.
Once you have the OK, lift the camera over to the dolly. If you are on a doorway dolly, this will include bringing the sticks, in which case you should follow one of the approaches mentioned above. If it is a standard dolly, have your 2nd AC and/or the dolly grip spot you when you place the camera.
If you are already shooting on the dolly, the operator/DP may decide that it’s easiest for the camera to “live” on the dolly. This means the camera will stay on the dolly for an extended period of time and be operated from there.
When the camera is living on the dolly, always ride or walk alongside the dolly whenever the dolly grip pushes it to the new setup/area and keep a steady hand on the camera body.
Transporting the Camera During a Company Move
A company move is when the entire crew moves from one location to another location and usually involves driving there.
For the camera crew, being one of the first departments to arrive at the location is crucial. The camera is needed for blocking and shot selection among other things. It will also give you the ability to find a staging area for your equipment without the hustle and bustle of everyone else vying for their space.
Riding with the Camera
When driving to a new location, it takes up a lot of time to pack the camera away and build it again when you get there.
Instead, you can ride with the camera in your lap.
While you are packing away the rest of the equipment, power down the camera and remove all delicate accessories such as lenses and filters. Place the camera safely and securely (use a seatbelt if possible) in the front seat of the vehicle.
Once everything is packed away, ride along in the car/van/truck with the camera in your lap, always making sure to hold it with two hands.
Transporting the Camera on Longer Moves
On longer company moves (i.e. 30+ minutes) it isn’t practical or comfortable to have a camera in your lap the whole time. I recommend debuilding the camera in these kinds of situations.
Yes this will take more time, but if the company move is that big, then production has anticipated for it so you will have a few moments of time when you arrive at the location.
Camera On the Move!
No matter how stressed the director, producer, DP or whoever is, don’t sacrifice safety for speed. You may get yelled at for being slow, but you will get yelled at a lot more if the camera ends up destroyed.
If you get major flack, you can always explain that your job is to take care of the equipment and you want to make sure it is going to be OK.
Lastly, it’s standard protocol for the camera assistant to shout out “camera on the move!” or “camera coming through!” when carrying the camera. This is so nobody accidentally bumps into you and to help clear a path, similar to how grips yell “hot points” with dolly track.
I am going to wrap this up with a quote from Doug Hart’s The Camera Assistant:
“When the camera moves to the next set or location, the Camera Assistant places a casual but resolute hand on the magazine or handle, and walks alongside in a procession of vigilance and confidence. This delicate precision machine is to be kept safe, warm and dry at all costs, even when the Camera Assistant may not be.”
Well said, Doug.
What precautions do you take when you’re moving the camera? And what’s the most ridiculous rig you’ve encountered while trying to move a camera?